By Ilesanmi Omabomi
With respect to the government of Muhammadu Buhari, it appears the time has finally come for Nigerians to end the prolonged honeymoon and draw a line in the sand. There can be no better call to arms or rallying issue than the nauseating and shameful ongoing revelations of padding, fraud and deliberate misallocation of scarce resources in the 2016 federal budget. That a country as blessed as Nigeria will present a budget with dodgy and shoddy figures as are being revealed calls into question the competence of the people President Buhari is relying upon to handle the finances of his government. Nigeria parades a citizenry made up of professionals trained in some of the best academic institutions in the world and have been in charge of multi-billion dollar budgets in different capacities around the world. What Nigerians must bear in mind is that the 2016 budget is only $30Billion with the official rate and $20Billion with the black market rate.
President Buhari must himself explain to Nigerians why after taking almost five months to appoint his ministers with the excuse that he was searching for the best hands, this disjointed, incoherent, elementary and pedestrian document called the 2016 federal budget is the best they can produce. In the absence of a cogent explanation from each and every minister and senior official associated with this budget, the president should ask for their resignation or fire them with immediate effect. Those guilty of willful conduct should be arrested immediately and prosecuted.
In addition, the President has some explanations to do himself. He must explain to Nigerians why the Aso Rock kitchen continues to get tens of millions in budget allocations every year for the purchase of utensils without Nigerians being told of what happened to the ones purchased the year before. Why does the guest house continue to get hundreds of millions every year for renovation and new contents without an explanation of what happened to previous allocations. He needs to explain why the Aso Rock Clinic that caters to fewer than 2,000 people is getting more money for capital expenditure than all the teaching hospitals that cater to over 170 million Nigerians. Why does the President need N1billion to buy food items at a time when the average Nigerian is starving. The President, not his assistants, has a lot of things to explain about some of the allocations in this shameful budget. Before the president forgets, I will encourage him to take a brief trip down memory lane to review how former president Goodluck Jonathan ended up in the mess that he is in now.
GEJ started off by telling Nigerians he did not “give a damn” about making public his assets declaration. Then he appointed the worst people into strategic positions and then began the worst treasury looting in the country’s history. Treasury looters were rewarded with national awards and entrusted with more money. Those who dared to challenge the looters were accused of crying wolf, humiliated and fired from their jobs. At the time it looked unfathomable that the opposition will be able to produce a candidate that will dislodge the then almighty PDP from power. Then came along the APC, candidate Mohamadu Buhari and the 2015 presidential elections. We all now know how the PDP deck of cards all came crashing down.
I supported President Buhari and will continue to support him until I run out of patience with him and his government. I hope it will not be soon.
Millions of Nigerians voted for PMB and his party and are pinning their hopes of a better future on his legendary Spartan lifestyle and no frills leadership style. They have sheeted their swords in the last seven months in the hope that he will soon come good on his promises even when some aspects of his leadership or lack of it have given them reasons to at least question if their hopes and aspirations have been misplaced.
The ongoing revelations of the shoddy, fraudulent and incompetently prepared 2016 national budget is the latest in a long list of misdemeanors over which Nigerians would have been prepared to hang the former president but have been patient with PMB because of their faith in his personal integrity and his undoubted desire to pull this country out of the woods. Other disturbing matters that arose before now and were overlooked are being re-examined to see if a pattern of disrespect for Nigerians is being exhibited by this government. A short list of some of them will suffice.
The President’s promised public declaration of his assets within 90 days of assuming office was less than “kosher” In addition to his failure to publicly make available his asset declaration forms, the methodology used for arriving at his N30m or $150,000 net worth based on the then existing exchange rate was not empirical. While most of the newspapers gladly announced that the president was worth only N30million what they forgot or failed or willfully chose to be blind to was the value of items that were not included in the calculation of his total net worth. Some of those things included the monetary value of his five homes and two mud houses, his shares in three companies as well as his two undeveloped plots. We all know that plots of land can sell for or be worth as much as N500million in a place like Abuja and houses could be worth hundreds of millions in some parts of Nigeria. If in doubt ask Ekpemepulo Tompolo who allegedly sold one to the federal government for N13Billion! On a serious note, I am not raising these points to imply that the president is corrupt or provide the ammunition to those who are determined to see the president fail because of his anti-corruption war, far from that. But the truth must be told. The point here is to draw the President’s attention to the fact that Nigerians have cut him a lot of slack and it is his turn to reciprocate.
Very few will deny the fact that GEJ government’s maintenance of a fleet of 12 or more aircrafts in the Presidential Fleet at a time when the country was in and continues to in a fiscal death row cost him considerable votes in the election. Since Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015 many Nigerians, including myself, who have been eagerly waiting for the news that he has ordered a sell off of at least 2/3 or 8 of the planes have been disappointed. Even a story that the president had ordered the selloff of the planes a few weeks into his presidency was denied. Like one popular columnist said Buhari is “keeping all the planes with style” This luxury is unaffordable and its continued existence is a source of irritation for Millions of Nigerians who struggle to survive on less than a $1 a day.
The president’s frequent overseas trips is another worrisome issue. Even when the cost of these trips are not taken into consideration, some of these overseas trips are not worthy of the attendance of the President of the most populated and richest black nation on earth. Attendance by the vice-president or ministers would be more in order and cheaper. The president recently announced commencement of a short five-day vacation during a trip to Europe. While I do not begrudge him for taking a vacation only eight months into his presidency, it appears that the presidential plane that flew him to Europe will remain parked at the airport during his vacation and Nigerians will have to pick up this unnecessary cost at a time when the country is bleeding financially. If the Prime Minister of Britain will fly commercial on his vacations, is it too much to ask the president of a country that receives economic and military aid from Britain to do the same?
There is the issue of corruption in the judiciary. We have heard the President express his concerns or doubts about the willingness of the judiciary to support his anti-corruption war. Most Nigerians share his concerns. What baffles many Nigerians is why Buhari is refusing to take on the judges and other judicial officers who earn civil service or slightly better than civil service remunerations but are openly living in mansions and living lifestyles that supply conclusive evidence of their corruption. The Supreme Court and courts below it continue to render decisions that are clearly designed to frustrate the anti-corruption war. Why the government will not make billions available to the anti-corruption agencies to hire thousands of additional agents to swiftly deal a deadly blow to this type of corruption is beyond anyone, especially when the funds to be recovered will far exceed the costs of doing so.
Most of the corrupt officials and political appointees put in the place by the GEJ government that almost bankrupted Nigeria are still occupying their positions. Why was the wife of Bode-George still the acting D-G of a sensitive federal agency like the NDLEA until today? Why is NAFDAC still headed by the corrupt protégé of a corrupt former Attorney General? It is not like they are career officers who got to their position on merit. Hundreds of federal agencies critical to the economy of this country and the anti-corruption fight continue to be under the control of GEJ appointed corrupt PDP stalwarts. How difficult is it to find competent Nigerians to staff critical government agencies and institutions?
The handling of the petroleum subsidy removal was another coup de shame. Given the President’s earlier promise not to remove the subsidy (assuming there was ever one) and his subsequent decision to remove it, one would have expected that such a sensitive national issue that affects the wellbeing of over 90% of Nigerians would have been the subject of a national broadcast. Instead, Ibe Kachikwu, the minister of state for petroleum resources made the announcement in several pieces as if using every piece to measure public reaction. I do not blame him though. Yet, Nigerians let it be. Anyone who remembers the long and protracted struggle Nigerians put up against previous regimes in order to protect what they believed to be petroleum subsidy would advise President Buhari to be very thankful for the understanding and trust shown him by Nigerians with their peaceful acceptance of his government’s decision to remove whatever was left of the petroleum subsidy.
Despite the appreciable efforts being made at the federal level, corruption continues unabated at the state and local government levels. Governors and local government chairmen/women who grumble over having to pay the miserly N18,000 minimum wage, an amount that one of their numerous girlfriends will refuse to accept for a taxi ride, are erecting or buying mansions within and outside Nigeria with stolen money and training their wards in some of the best universities in the world. They spend hundreds of millions renovating buildings that were built or renovated less than a year ago. They are not making cuts to their bureaucracies, expenses nor retinue of often incompetent and unproductive special assistants. Many of these erring governors are from the same party as the President!
Nigerians continue to expect the President to tackle corruption in the National Assembly. The corruption ridden institution continues to resist every reasonable attempt by Nigerians to make it accountable. There is a limit to the separation of powers. If the allowances being drawn by these lawmakers are illegal as we have been told several times by RMAFC, what is stopping the law enforcement agencies from arresting and prosecuting those who issue the checks and those who cash the checks?
The President may honestly believe that he is being “slow and steady” but the situation on the ground calls for something more urgent. The President must be prepared to dismiss with dispatch those who are singing a different tune from his government’s, he must learn to delegate, and be prepared to take the risk of trusting those he has not worked with before in the full knowledge that those who err will be taken care of by the law.
The PDP in particular and the general opposition maybe in disarray right now just the same way the opposition was in disarray before the emergence of APC, the President must personally take his own time to read up on how GEJ found himself and his government on the slippery slope from which they never recovered. President Mohamadu Buhari has a golden opportunity to write his name into the history of Nigeria and maybe become the genuine father of modern day Nigeria. But he must bear in mind that time waits for no one and Nigerians are daily dying of hunger, ignorance and preventable diseases. He cannot allow himself to be seen as daring Nigerians! When all is said and done, he will have to take full responsibility for the failures of his government because it is his government. If he has been let down by trusted aids, Nigerians want to see him hang them out to dry.